‘My dad knew how to do everything:’ 3 Elders die in Unamen Shipu following COVID-19 outbreak

The Innu community of Unamen Shipu, also known as La Romaine, was recently rocked with a COVID-19 outbreak, leading to the death of three Elders.

One of them, Ambroise “Apenuen” Lalo wasn’t able to get the medical attention he required in time, says the family.

According to Alexi Lalo, Apenuen’s son, the family worked hard to evacuate their father from the remote fly-in community, located over 1,300 km northeast of Montreal near the eastern edge of Quebec.

Apenuen waited four days before getting care.

“The first day, the temperature was still pretty good to do a medical evacuation by plane, but they had trouble finding equipment to evacuate the patients,” says Alexi Lalo in French.

“But at the end of the day, that’s when the temperature dropped and the day after, and the day after, there were other cases that needed to be evacuated, other cases of COVID, and then it seemed the medical center prioritizes patients, and the other patients were in a more critical state.”

In his youth, Apenuen lived the traditional nomadic life and later experienced the forced settling of the Innus.

According to his son, Apenuen was proud of his culture and was an avid caribou hunter.

“He made us live the traditional life. He was able to make canoes, he made snowshoes. He was able to make axes … and harpoons. My dad knew how to do everything,” says Lalo.

Alexi’s dad also taught him to share with those in need.

He often thinks about one of the last conversations he had with his father.

“We asked him if, say, he went into cardiac arrest, do you want us to revive you? He said ‘yes, I want to be revived, I want to see my grandchildren, I want to do it for my grandchildren.’

“That’s what he said to us,” says Lalo.

Though Alexi learned so much from his father, he admits having regrets.

His greatest among them: not taking the time with his father to learn how to make a canoe. He hopes that others in Unamen Shipu will not have to face similar regrets anytime soon.

According to the chief of Unamen Shipu, Bryan Mark, the community’s struggle to obey public health measures led to the outbreak that cost Apenuen his life.

Elders Étienne Lalo and Denis Mollen also died after contracting the virus.

Chief Mike McKenzie of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam is part of the Innu Nation’s COVID-19 task force.

He adds that though the chiefs are beginning to spread the message that populations must learn to live with the virus, there is still work to be done.

“I think when it comes to La Romaine, I think it has a vaccination rate that isn’t high. So, I think with the most recent discussions I’ve had with my colleague, Chief Mark, people are starting to get vaccinated again. There’s demand,” said McKenzie in French.

How effective the latest vaccination campaign remains to be seen. Unamen Shipu recently came out of lockdown on Feb. 14 following this outbreak.

Story translated by APTN’s Emelia Fournier in Montreal.

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